Makin' Bacon

Bryan Foods Tracks and Ships with Bar Code Compliance System

Bryan Foods, a large pork processor based in West Point, MS, was in search of a state-of-the-art system to control production, spearheaded by a bar code compliance labeling system to track products from the warehouse door to the grocery store.

Bryan Foods used a third-party logistics supplier and a bar code compliance program to meet customers' compliance marking requirements. The company is a division of Sara Lee, employing approximately 3,000 people. It manufactures and sells ham, pork, bacon and luncheon meat under the Bryan Foods brands. The company's pork products are found in leading supermarkets and restaurants in the Southeast, and it also markets canned products under the Sweet Sue Kitchen brand.

To Market, to Market
"In 1995, we needed more space," explained Scott Stewart, Information Services Tech Support Manager. "We simply outgrew our facilities, and found it made more sense to strike a long-term agreement with a third-party distribution service."

Following a thorough evaluation of its production facilities, Bryan Foods decided to outsource its distribution center to Freezer Services, a third-party logistics business. Freezer Services built the distribution center right across the street from Bryan Foods. Upon building completion, Freezer Services required a paperless inventory control and shipping system for put-away, pick/pack and warehouse management.

In addition to the requirements of its DC, Bryan Foods felt it would be beneficial to provide UCC/EAN-128 bar codes on individual packages and pallets of bacon, ham, pork and lunchmeat to all their customers.

Bryan Foods turned to ID Technology (Fort Worth, TX) a value-added reseller, for a compliance solution that met both Bryan Foods' DC and vendor requests, and automated the recording of finished goods production data inside the plant. ID Technology provided Bryan Foods with a LINX Data Terminal Network that integrated all hand packaging and labeling, automated fixed weight labeling and automated catch weight labeling stations to comply with UCC/EAN-128 shipping container code standards.

Meat in Motion
Stewart noted that the key to the compliance labeling system is the in-motion weighing and labeling application. Four production lines converge into two catch-weight-labeling stations. At each of the production lines, an operator affixes a preprinted bar code label that corresponds to a product number.

At the labeling station, the LINX terminal receives the product number from the preprinted label via the scanner and transmits the weight down from the scale. The data is sent to the printer-applicator that prints and applies a label to the finished goods boxes at the rate of 20 boxes per minute. A report on finished goods production is prepared by the LINX terminal on the PC and uploaded to an IBM mainframe. The record is available on the mainframe within 30 seconds of the transaction being recorded at the catch weigh station.

Each station consists of a LINX terminal, a Microscan raster scanner, a Toledo scale and a Labeljet 2600 series printer applicator driven by a Sato print engine-all online to the LINX terminal.

In this controlled environment, the conveyor moves the boxes of product across an in-line Labeljet printer-applicator that automatically applies the 3" x 4" Product ID label to each box. A Sato print engine powers the printer-applicator, providing clear, crisp bar code labels at speeds up to six inches-per-second. Bar code scanability is a critical issue because the entire system — from processing floor… to warehouse door… to grocery store — is dependent upon the print quality of the label data. The Sato print engine was selected because of its high durability and reliability in harsh environments. "We selected the best bar code printing technology available in order to minimize the risk of having to shut down production due to equipment failure," Stewart noted.

Raw Material and WIP Tracking
Bryan Foods also needed to identify and track hogs throughout the entire process cycle. This would enable them to process the hog based on its quality. Bryan Foods and ID Technology implemented a LINX network that integrated vision systems, a Fat-O-Meter, a handheld bar code scanner and a voice recognition system. This system automates the tracking of hogs throughout the initial phase of the production process. Bryan Foods is now able to connect the content and weight of each hog with the vendor that provided it. As Bryan Foods collects fat content and weight information, the company automatically adjusts the processing of each hog to maximize yield and quality.

Pallet Labeling for Pork Products
The DC and co-packers require labeling for full pallets of the same product. This is handled at what Bryan Foods calls the "Pony Express" line. Each station consists of a LINX terminal, a PSC laser scanner, and a Labeljet printer applicator powered by a Sato print engine. The operator scans the product bar code and outputs the data and pallet identification to the Sato thermal transfer printer, which then produces a finished goods bar code Product ID label. The inventory record data is then entered on a PC and uploaded to the IBM mainframe.

ASN to DC in Real Time
ID Technology installed a Teklogix radio frequency bar code system in the Bryan facility to automate the warehouse picking and shipping transactions. The RF system was seamlessly interfaced into their IBM mainframe via Token Ring 3174 emulation. Operators scan the UCC/-EAN-128 pallet labels as they pick the products, creating an Advanced Shipping Notice (ASN) to be transmitted via EDI to their third-party warehouse for final shipment. The system automatically compares information on the pallet label to information in the Purchase Order file, indicating an error if the number of boxes and weight of product shipped do not match the PO. The DC uses the information on the ASN to inventory the new stock and arrange for shipping and handling.

Benefits of the System
By automating its processes, Bryan Foods also reaped the following benefits:

  • Increased efficiency - Products are bar coded and scanned for induction into the automated conveyor system, thereby increasing efficiency, tracking and control. The new system eliminates traffic jams in shipping. Operators used to hand write product weight on boxes while trucks waited to be loaded.

  • Increased productivity - Products can be moved faster, easier and at a lower cost. Now, they can package 21 boxes per minute.

  • Increased accuracy - Eliminating data key entry errors saves the time and money required correcting them.

  • More efficient distribution - The bar code labeling system enables the DC to receive, put-away, pick and pack, more quickly and with greater accuracy.

  • Real-time information - Bryan Foods now has case level production numbers to update product files on the mainframe computer in real time, vastly improving ordering and inventory control.

  • Increased business - On-time, on-target deliveries reduced costs and provided the competitive edge needed to gain more business.
The Competitive Edge
"Our company's philosophy is to embrace EDI because of the rapid increases in productivity and profitability it provides," concluded Stewart. "We believe that continually adapting advanced technologies such as automation and bar coding will make us even more successful in the 21st century."

Edited versions of this story have appeared (or are scheduled to appear) in the following publications:
  • March/April 1999 issue of Data Capture Reseller

  • April 1999 issue of ADC News & Solutions

  • June 1999 or July 1999 issue of Food Logistics